April 14, 2005

WRC and Professor Sanderson

Workers' Rights Consortium

If a student newspaper like the Maroon can, perhaps, be pardoned, Professor Allen Sanderson probably can not for his remarks ("Administration Decides to Affiliate with WRC," 4/12/05) on the efforts of the Workers' Rights Consortium to improve conditions in the factories that supply official school apparel. In contradiction to many similar advocacy groups, the WRC incorporates a substantial presence "on the ground" in the form of factory inspection teams. By cooperating with management and making substantive remedial recommendations, the WRC is able to ensure that when complaints are brought against its members' suppliers, they result not in factory closures but in real changes in working conditions. The WRC is notable precisely because it takes Professor Sanderson's criticism into account and, rejecting untrammeled exploitation on the one hand and unemployment on the other, has been able to address the problem of workers' rights in developing countries in new ways. It is not surprising, unfortunately, that a professor of economics at the U of C would be willing to defend sweatshop production—even of goods that will bear the insignia of his own institution—but it is a little more surprising that he would feel free to give his opinion when so clearly uninformed. Prof. Sanderson's ill-considered remarks carry with them the weight of his position and reputation even as they obscure the facts, and so do much to muddy the waters of an already polemical issue. If professors are to ensure that they and their rights to academic freedom are taken seriously, they will have to take care to first find out what they are talking about before lending the rest of us the benefit of their expertise.

Max Gasner

Third-year in the College